Ever Enter a Room & Forget Why You Went There? Blame The Doorway.

By Douglas Main | November 22, 2011 11:35 am

New research suggests the mere act of walking through a doorway helps people forget, which could explain many millions of confusing moments that happen each day around the world. A study published recently in The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology found that participants who walked through doorways in a virtual reality environment were significantly more likely to forget memories formed in another room, compared with those who traveled the same distance but crossed no thresholds.

Notre Dame University researcher Gabriel Radvansky says doorways serve as a type of “event boundary” that the brain uses to separate and store memories. When you enter a new room, your brain updates its understanding of what’s going on in the new environment, which takes some mental effort. This parsing of memory, albeit subtle, leaves the information encoded in the other room (i.e. “Now I’m going to my room to fetch some knickers”) less available in your new location.

Recognizing this tendency could help you avoid future lapses. Or you could take Radvansky’s advice, as (jokingly—I think) told to Postmedia News: “Doorways are bad. Avoid them at all costs.”

Reference: Gabriel A. Radvansky, Sabine A. Krawietz & Andrea K. Tamplin. Walking through doorways causes forgetting: Further explorations. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. Volume 64, Issue 8, August 2011, pages 1632-1645. DOI: 10.1080/17470218.2011.571267

Image credit: wikioticsIan / Flicr 

  • Jockaira

    Happens all the time…form a thought to get something in another room, and upon arriving there can’t remember why I came. Think about why for 5-10 seconds then decide that it probably wasn’t important enough to remember, and return to the first room where I promptly remember why I went to the second room.

    Radvansky’s hypothesis makes sense, especially when you consider that one’s whole life is determined by one’s opinions of what reality is, and that passing into another room is a metaphorical denial of an immediate state. Compartmentalizing a reality model is probably why such strange things as cognitive dissonance occur and are able to be maintained and strengthened over the long-term in an otherwise sane individual.

    Having it work on such a mundane level, affecting even the most trivial actions and thoughts, is a sobering realization and perhaps a caution that we aren’t as aware or conscious as we believe we are (another faulty reality model)…all thru…I’m returning now to my normal sub-intelligent trance state searching for environmental enhancements such as pie, cake, and hot greasy sex.

  • Bill

    The key thing about this article is that what I had thought was something wrong with me appears to be a general condition.
    Which leads to the thought: what else is not my fault?
    Now where on earth is that damned Submit Comment button?

  • Cathy

    This is a good argument for open house design. Keep only the rooms that need to be private with doors, and have the living, dining, and kitchen areas all just bleed into each other. No doors necessary!

  • Pat Thompson

    Is there SCIENTIFIC confusion here between prenatal and world realities? Or are humans still so primitive and unconscious that natural confusion carries over this far?

    I do know that understanding where one’s “virtual” head is, within the landscape of the mind/personality/prenatal memory-experience, is necessary when trying to understand the origin and dynamics of a puzzling situation.

    We humans even have a displaced expression for the location of people’s heads when they seem to express themselves irrationally: “..head up your a..” But a more accurate expression would be “..head up your mother’s a..” Conceptually, our language suggests that humans are still living in original placenta (heaven) and afterbirth (hell) environments, with enough forgetfulness thrown in to bear it.

  • Wilbertoes

    I heard a tale that early Greek or Roman speakers would walk through the rooms of their home while practicing and associating parts of their speech to each room. Then when they delivered their lecture, they could remember and work through the talk “room-by-room”.

  • Sarah

    Wilbertoes, that is related to what is called The Memory Palace. I’ve used it to help myself remember odd things and dates when necessary. Read Moonwalking with Einstein, it explains it a bit more. :)

  • Scott

    I’ve long known about myself that my memory is geographically based. When I was young and went to summercamp, I recalled only remembering the campers names while I was there. They would fall out for the other months of the year and return when I came back. Then when I graduated from college I would forget friends names until I returned to the campus. I don’t think everyone is this way. Just like we have visual and auditory and tactile learners, I imagine different people process and store memories different ways. I have a directional ordinance attached to every memory and dream. It’s just how my brain stores information.

    What on earth are you talking about Pat Thompson?

  • Jockaira

    The lights are on in Pat Thompson’s rooms. He’s not at home but there’s a burgler making a random search for something that makes sense. So far all he’s found is dirty underwear and moldy dinner plates, and a dog that makes furtive attempts at barking but is being cowed by Pat’s cat complaining loudly about the condition of his litter-box.

    Everybody seems poised to resume some sort of purposeful action as soon as Pat gets back from wherever he is.

  • http://kforcounter.blogspot.com Cody

    Jockaira, I wanted to commend your first comment, but it seemed the time had passed. Realizing this last comment was yours too, I just had to say you’re too much fun.

  • Aysenur

    I’m with Cody; enjoying your comments, Jockaira

  • Kirk

    A ‘reality check’ in lucid dream practice is to stop at each doorway (in the dream) and run your hand over the door frame. Also look for a doorknob and look at your hand as you turn it. I have practiced this and I can remember clearly walking into the new room when I wake up.


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